Wednesday, August 24, 2005

A story on the continuing safety "scandals" at LANL

From Anonymous:


I was approached by a reporter yesterday, who wanted to do a story on
the continuing safety "scandals" at LANL, which, as all people "in the
know" know, is "run" by UC. (I cannot reveal my source, as you can well
understand, nor can I reveal my name, for equally oh-so-obvious
reasons.) I told him what I had read about the complete history of
safety "problems" at LANL, including the fact that things appeared to
get worse just after the shutdown. (Thanks, Brad, for those letters to
the editor at Physics Today.) Of course, "worse" means that even though
entire experimental facilities were shut down, so that no serious
injuries could possibly have occurred, there was a plethora of
stress-related minor injuries that required medical treatment. Now that
we are "back up and running full bore," some more injuries have
happened, and I told him that that was to be expected at a major
national laboratory, but that I doubted things were somehow terribly
much worse than before the shutdown. As long as any work whatsoever is
being done at Los Alamos, there will always be some level of accidents
that occur. Once again, the world should not panic at every incident,
and management at the Lab should treat individual cases with concern.
Punishment for mistakes should not be the norm, unless the
individual(s) involved are repeat offenders in ignoring common-sense
safety procedures. I suggested to the reporter that scientists tend to
be very conservative about lab safety and national security; for
example, they don't run around throwing lighted sticks of dynamite at
each other as noontime pranks, as some in Congress seem to think.

The reporter then asked about the "culture of arrogance," and I replied
that arrogance at Los Alamos most often comes in the form of directives
from upper managers who never bother to walk around and talk to the
scientists "in the trenches." When managers (a few, at least) do take
the time to find out what their former colleagues are up to and what
their concerns are, they are not inclined to shut down the entire
Laboratory for months just for appearances sake, nor to curry favor
with certain off-the-wall, angry-for-the-benefit-of-TV-cameras
Congressmen. Nor are they likely to be caught out short, as when the DX
Division leader was frogmarched into the Director's office to call
Linton Brooks up on the speaker phone about "missing" CREM, only to
tell him that she thinks it's all a bookkeeping error, to which Brooks
moans, "Oh, don't tell me this is just another one of those 'nothing
really happened at Los Alamos' stories!"

The reporter then told me that it looked to him as though there really
wasn't a story here (again) at Los Alamos about safety "scandals." He
thanked me and said that he wished he could have gotten a straight
story out of LANL Public Affairs spokespersons. He said all he got was
smoke and denials and more smoke. (Why am I not surprised?)

So, the bottom line is, don't look for a frenzied media exposé on "Yet
another safety scandal at LANL!" in the very near future. But don't
credit LANL or UC "spokespersons" for that.

Comments:
It is interesting that Baghdad Bob and his crew are viewed by reporters as an organization from which they cannot get the straight story.

I mean to say, it is interesting that there doesn't seem to be anybody left the planet who is not aware that the LANL PA office can not be relied upon to tell the truth about affairs at LANL.
 
Anonymous said, "I cannot reveal my source..." In other words, the "source" was a reporter.

Shouldn't Anonymous have said instead, "I cannot reveal my SINK..."?
 
Yuk, yuk.
 
I have been eager to tell the public my views on the absurd "culture of arrogance" exaggeration. I'm a bit jealous that I didn't get a call from this particular reporter. If anyone gets inquiries like this, they could refer to my recent letter, posted at:

http://lanl-the-real-story.blogspot.com/2005_05_01_lanl-the-real-story_archive.html

On the other hand, maybe I should just be thankful that the story won't run at all. "Culture of arrogance" will turn out to be the three words most damaging to the institution that were ever uttered by a lab director.

-- Bernard Foy
 
There was an itty-bitty radiological contamination at Sandia today, they immediately sent an email to all employees, cordoned off the area, gave an update on the employee's safety...seems it was a very minor amount of contamination on a glove. So looks like the Labs are learning from mistakes...be open, be quick, do the right thing, everybody is happy. Accidents will happen in the best of environments, so the issue is recover and learn lessons, not cover up or blame, etc.
 
Sandia has done this in the past.. so it isnt something new. Its just a matter of being on top of the ball instead of under it.
 
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